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Thursday, 11 December 2008

Palgrave's Golden Treasury

When I was a little child, my Mum used to quote poetry while she bathed us. She washed our hair quoting Charles Kingsley's beautiful poem, "The Sands of Dee" :

"O, is it weed, or fish or floating hair -
A tress of golden hair,
A drowned maiden's hair,
Above the nets at sea?
Was never salmon yet that shone so fair
Among the stakes of Dee..."

(Yikes, no wonder I had nightmares about drowning!!).

She quoted the beautiful, "Lady of Shalott"

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye
That clothe the wold...

And a hundred more besides. As soon as I was able, I ran to her 'Palgrave's Golden Treasury of Poetry' and devoured all the words which, even when they had no meaning to me, sounded so beautiful.

John Masefield's beautiful Cargoes:

Quinquireme of Ninevah
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine
With a cargo of ivory,
Apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood and cedarwood
And sweet white wine...

Or Caroline Sarah Elizabeth Norton's, "I do not love thee"

I do not love thee, no, I do not love thee,
And yet when thou art absent, I am sad
And envy even the quiet blue sky above thee,
Whose silent stars may see thee and be glad.

It concerns me sometimes to think this beauty is not something that is part and parcel of everyday life now. Children have not heard of Masefield or Kingsley or even Longfellow and Tennyson. There are times when we feel things and do not have words to express them and suddenly, in such times, moments of poetry - remembered lines - express them for us so clearly. At times we all lack the vocabulary to express our highest selves, or to express the deepest reaches of our souls, but sometimes lines of poetry - like bars of music - say things for us that just 'get it'.

How has it come about that everything is now taken to its lowest common denominator? So-called poetry writes of joy-riders; so-called art speaks of unmade beds, pickled fish, emptiness. For heaven's sake - we are worth more than this! Isn't it time to return to beautiful language, beautiful art, beautiful imagery? Palgrave's Golden Treasury remains with me always - a real treasury of beauty.

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